After all, the services provided are not equal. Things such as law enforcement -- from police to prisons -- are critical. Education is also among the top priorities.
Yet, when a budget shortfall hits a state government, swift action is needed. The faster spending cuts are made, the easier it is to get the budget in order. It's the way even deeper cuts can be avoided later.
So give credit to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski for taking quick, decisive action in dealing with a projected $577 million budget shortfall.
Kulongoski on Wednesday said he would implement most of the across-the-board spending cuts proposed by state agencies two weeks ago.
"With limited options to balance the budget, and growing uncertainty about federal assistance, the longer we wait to implement these reductions, the deeper the cuts will have to be to bring the budget into balance," he said after meeting with agency directors.
The cuts are not small nor will they be easy to absorb. It amounts to about 9 percent of general government for the second year of the two-year budget cycle, which starts July 1.
"I know these cuts are significant and will impact the lives of thousands of Oregonians across the state," Kulongoski said. "But we have to operate with the reality of today and we simply do not have the revenue to fund the level of services approved in the current budget."
Kulongoski, however, wisely opted to keep prisons open and inmates behind bars. The governor rejected a proposal by the Department of Corrections to close three small prisons and cut deeply into community corrections grants. The prison closure would have triggered release of almost 1,000 inmates.
About half of the dollars cut were aimed at public schools in the form of aid to the various districts. This is going to be difficult for schools already being squeezed financially.
The fact is that education accounts for a large portion of the budget so it's an area where savings can be found. But the public, if the polls are to be believed, wants to see more resources focused on eduction. When lawmakers start work on the next two-year budget in January they must make sure the public's priorities are reflected in the spending plan.
In the meantime, the drastic -- albeit painful -- action taken by Kulongoski will serve to keep the state out of red ink until the economy recovers and the Legislature can make the necessary spending or revenue adjustments.